Image: Frank Ambrose, center.
Shawano Cleary  /  AP
Former environmental activist Frank Ambrose, center, walks out of the Federal Court Building in Kalamazoo, Mich., after being sentenced on Monday.
updated 10/20/2008 3:32:37 PM ET 2008-10-20T19:32:37

A former environmental activist who committed arson at Michigan State University in 1999 and later became a government informant was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison.

Frank Ambrose, 33, told a federal judge he was sorry for what he did and accepted full responsibility. He was freed until he is ordered to report to prison, which could take months.

He also received a lifetime of supervisory release after prison and was ordered to pay $3.7 million in restitution to the university and for other sabotaged sites.

"I wish I could take all I did back. I've changed significantly from all those years where I did the bad things," Ambrose said.

Ambrose had pleaded guilty to conspiring to set a fire and explosion that caused more than $1 million in damage to the university's Agriculture Hall on New Year's Eve 1999. It was a protest against genetically modified crops in the name of a radical group, the Earth Liberation Front.

The conspiracy plea also covered damage to logging equipment the next day in Wexford County. While the charge is conspiracy, Ambrose admitted that he set the fires.

In his plea agreement, Ambrose took responsibility for 11 other acts from 1999 to 2003, including tree spikings in Indiana and the arson of four homes under construction in Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Ambrose became an FBI informant in 2007, a few months after making a critical mistake: He dumped personal records, writings, a gas mask, an M-80 explosive and other possessions in a Detroit-area trash bin. A man foraging for scrap cardboard called police and the FBI raided Ambrose's home.

Ambrose turned on a co-defendant, ex-wife Marie Mason, but his cooperation with the government goes beyond Michigan. He traveled outside the state seven times to gather intelligence and record conversations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank wrote in a court document.

Mason, 46, of Cincinnati pleaded guilty in September to three charges of conspiracy and arson and is to be sentenced in February.

Frank said Ambrose's undercover work went well beyond what most defendants do when seeking leniency in sentencing. Ambrose originally faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, but Frank asked U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney for a term in the range of 100 to 125 months.

Members of Ambrose's family cried and consoled each other in the courtroom after the hearing. They declined to comment on the sentence, as did Ambrose and his lawyer, Michael Brady.

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